Friday, April 29, 2022

Pinhole Day...and beyond

I always feel kind of weird when I see comments on Pinhole Day submissions where folks tell how they got out the pinhole camera they bought on a lark, but rarely use except for the Stenopeic holiday. I take pinhole photographs all the time. It's hard to find a way to make it special.

I loaded the Variable Cuboid and chose the medium angle 45mm front, with a continuously adjustable rising pinhole. The photograph you submit to the Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day gallery has to be taken on the last Sunday in April, so I might as well get on with it.

The weather has been cold and wet for weeks, so I had low expectations in the garden. This spooky flag had blown off someone's Halloween display last fall, got caught in a rose bush and spent the winter under the snow.

There was other detritus around and I started picking it up. One was at the far back against the hedge where a lot of trimmings get put to compost. There was a pile of dried roses that Sarah had put out over a month ago, still intact and colorful surrounded by the emerging daffodils.The contrast between the faded red and yellow roses with the green halo of daffodils against the background of brown leaves and grass was very striking in color.

The day before I had gone on a bike ride and saw several scenes I thought would be good to get in the sunlight with the 200mm front of the Variable Cuboid. If it were sunny on Pinhole Day and nothing inspired me at home, I could hop on the bike and get those. I made the switch and took off.

Ever since photographing this giant shiny bin with the "normal" angle Goldberry, I've wanted to get it isolated with the longer camera.

I had a similar thought when I photographed the construction barge Calumet with the Manic Expression Cube recently. The wind hadn't been too bad and it was kind of fun getting blown to the north. It was much harsher coming off the lake at Asylum Point. If it hadn't been Pinhole Day, I probably wouldn't have tried this one.

Another interesting machine on the outside of a factory which I photographed last summer with the 45mm front. I saw this view from the road across an empty field. Usually I'm surprised how far I have to get away from something with this camera. This time I was surprised how far across the field I had to walk to fill the frame. You can see on the left how the wind was blowing some pretty big trees around.

The previous frame on that roll last summer was the cement plant which was also visible from across an open lot. In this case I couldn't get farther back and get an unobscured view. I also pointed up a little higher than I wanted, so again a very tightly, seemingly randomly cropped image. This may be rationalization, but I'm starting to like these odd compositions.

Before going out, I decided to also load another wider angle camera, just in case. Suddenly overcome with holiday nostalgia, I chose the 45mm Glenlivet Vertical Populist, my first 6x6cm camera. It was too cold and nasty to stop other than for those four planned destinations.

Since it was Pinhole Day, the back yard was worth another look with the Glenlivet. The color fooled me again with this shiny ivy in the corner.

We have just had new windows installed and had to clear the areas around them. The sunbeam falling on the chair made for a tidy composition.

Six out of my twenty-one submissions to Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day have been self portraits. Sarah came to the bottom of the stairs to ask me something without realizing the shutter was open. I actually answered her and kept on posing. Not a bad composition. Do I look frustrated because I can't think of anything new to photograph?

Getting more desperate later in the afternoon. A slightly creepy portrait of my left hand.

Covering my left hand with my right hand,

As the Sun went down it beamed through the stairway window onto Sarah's new watering can on the dresser in the dining room. It was covered by the clouds shortly after and I turned on the lights and let the exposure go for another hour and a half.

That was it. Now I have to pick a favorite and submit it to the 2022 gallery. The deadline is midnight GMT on June 30th. Have you done yours

The next morning, faced with unfinished film in two cameras, I put them in my backpack and rode off, in cloudy, but not as windy and cold conditions.

I encountered one of those situations where I see a composition, get off the bike and try to frame it, but the relationships change closer up (this is even with the 200mm), and then decide not to take the picture. Turning around to go back to the bike, this heavy duty electrical service among a bucolic grove of trees caught my eye.

Going toward downtown, I passed this Victorian in the process of renovation. Another of those randomly cropped arrangements with the long camera.

I kept seeing things that would look better with a rising front on a wide-angle camera and got a little peeved because I only had the axial pinhole Glenlivet.  I went home and the next day set out with the 35mm front on the Variable Cuboid.

This is Senator Johnson's local office. He's from Oshkosh. It looks appropriately creepy. I was so disappointed no one on his staff came out to offer to help me. I had about a five minute routine ready. 


Most of those rising front opportunities I saw were in the alley behind the west side of the lower 400 block of Main Street. Another one of the times the film just doesn't want to be controlled. I've been thinking of doing a zine of this kind of thing called Warped.

J.F. Krumrich was a jewelry store in the 50s. It's now occupied by Jumbalaya, an art collective, one of three in Oshkosh.

This is most of the alley I'm talking about. The last two scenes and the next are visible. When I was setting up, a young man with a UW Oshkosh hat on came by carrying a PA type speaker and a bucket of construction debris. He thought my home-made camera was badass. I told him carrying around that giant speaker to listen to music while he was working was badass.

I still have the film left in the Glenlivet Vertical Populist. This arrangement of pipes and the dark door was low enough for a level camera with an axial pinhole.

Usually trying to keep a camera level for a scene of more than one story leaves a lot of blank foreground, but this bulkhead filled in nicely.

Then the film jammed, something I was sort of expecting. The Glenlivet is also the last 120 camera I made with a single winder. I transfered the film to the Wisconsin Amber Wide Angle at 24mm. I've been struggling with whether it's appropriate to ask teenagers to take pictures of each other, and how to describe that the body can make compositional shapes without sounding prurient. Thinking about this I tried to fold into a more appropriate way for my square format camera.

The environment can also lend personality to a portrait. I leaned against the Mustang.

The 45mm front of the Variable Cuboid has a .27mm pinhole. The 200mm front has a .50mm pinhole. The 35mm front has a .25mm pinhole. All are hand drilled. The film was Ilford FP4+.

The Glenlivet Vertical Populist has a .30mm Gilder Electron Microscope Aperture 45mm away from the film. The 24mm Wisconsin Amber Wide Angle has a hand-drilled .22mm pinhole.  The film is 100.

Both films were semi-stand developed together in Caffenol.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Lessons from a Camera Making Workshop


Last Saturday, four gracious, cheerful and enthusiastic members of the Fox Valley Photography Meetup Group participated in a camera-making, photograph-taking workshop with me. I really learned a lot.

The main take-away is that I still need to reduce the time it takes to make a finished camera. The shutter channels, shutter slider, tripod mounts and winders had already been made up with the help of my former colleague-in-the-office-next-door Brian Ledwell, Laser Cutter Artiste Extraordinaire. We're now going to make all the parts that are not visible on the outside of the camera with the adhesive already applied and fold lines scored. Participants will still make the outside boxes and the shutters i.e. the fun part. One advantage is that with the premade parts, a shutter is just about as easy to make as just a flap over the counter hole. I noticed people fussing with the jury-rigged counter shutters just held under the rubber bands. The second proper shutter does make a more finished looking product. Also, the shutters are exactly the same size as the negative so they can help with viewfinding if you have one on the back.

Another painful learning experience was discovering the need to make a jig to hold and guide the square punch for cutting the holes in the taking shutter. I smashed my fingertip with the mallet and bled all over my camera. It was on the inside of the shutter so you can't see it.

We just barely got the cameras made in four hours. The Kaukana Public Library, where we were meeting, closed at 1 pm so we had to be cleaned up and out by then. About noon I made the call that we didn't have time to make and measure pinholes and handed out ones I had drilled earlier in the week. I really want those kids this summer to drill their own pinhole.

Bobbi made a 30mm camera, Caroline chose 45mm, and Dave, Mike and I, 60mm. I decided to use the Zesta Saltine Cracker box because I read in a Facebook post the previous day that red was bold and daring.

Mike had to go play with his granddaughter after lunch (his phrasing). The rest of us decided to go back to the Libary with it's historic exterior, location on the rapids and locks of the Fox River, and proximity to the giant Thilmany Paper Mill. That might not have been the best choice. The library is located on an island in the river. It was 36° F with a 20 mile per hour sustained wind and no other places to go to warm up.

I've never participated in a group photo shoot before and didn't quite know what to do. I tried to stay close to give advice and help, but eventually we all drifted off to different parts of the island.

The most recognizable feature of downtown Kaukana is the Veterans Memorial Lift Bridge. The locks on the Fox River, built in the 1850s, have been restored for mostly pleasure-boat navigation between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay.  Restoring this bridge to operation was one of the last things done. I was wishing I had a rising front but the sky was pretty interesting so I just tilted up. The bridge itself isn't perfectly square anyway–the right bank is a little higher than the left.

The original library was built on the island in the river on land donated by the canal company in 1904. In 2016, it was moved into the restored Thilmany Eagle Mill, also on the island. Again in need of the rising front. There's a meter high barrier across the street overlooking the lock channel. I put the tripod on that, hooked over the railing and extended it as far as I could and still reach the shutter. Caroline was taking the same scene. Her camera appears at the bottom of the frame but she moved too much to be on the negative.

I worked in the basements of libraries my whole career so this entrance to the lower level caught my eye. (There's a normal public entrance a few yards to the left.)

The neat and shiny utility boxes divide my square negative into quadrants.

The renovations have been done very well. The history of the building is still visible.

The cloudy sky reflecting in the windows was an interesting feature. Again without a rising front. 
This time I just got the tripod up on it's tiptoes with the legs collapsed as much as they can and stay standng. I held it down with one hand so the wind didn't blow it over.

Trying to make a composition of this long dark rust-colored fish against the relatively bright sky wasn't the best choice with my square negative. The tight cropping does go with it's dour expression against the dramatic clouds. The Fox, a wild tumbling rapids at this point, is almost completely calmed by the 8 second exposure. The metal screening on the fence below the fish is pretty cool.

The last holdout against the frigid environment, Dave makes an exposure of those clouds reflected in the windows. He had made a classic oatmeal box camera in the nineties and attended my presentation at the Oshkosh Public Museum just before the pandemic.

I had given the participants a table of exposures. It was mounted on a black card they could use to wave away and back over the pinhole for short exposures, which you can see in use in the above photo.

I have to admit I cheated a bit and used Pinhole Assist to measure exposures, but it turned out they all agreed with what was on the card.

I finished the roll in Oshkosh. Without really intending to, I made photographs of four locations I had done before. For these I just used the exposure table without consulting my phone.

The little pumphouse in the north end of Menomonee Park was the inspiration for my Park Infrastructure piece several years ago. I chose to photograph it again just because I'm into corners lately.

The other side of this structure near the channel between the park and Monkey Island was the subject of the first frame in the camera I made to illustrate building the Populist. Two years ago, it was awarded honorable mention in the juried show at the museum where I'll be doing workshops this summer. Last year I had a picture in the show again but I just got the rejection notice for this year's show. The pattern of the waves splashing on the side facing the lake was what caught my eye this time.

The date was 4/20 so the address on the back of 420 Main Street caught my attention. The tripod was on top of a garbage recepticle so the camera didn't need to be tilted up. I photographed it before with a panoramic curved negative in the Pinhole Lab Camera. Until recently it was occupied by an aromatic waxes store. The Wisconsin Hemp Works is next door. I wonder if they ever wish they had this address, but then, it is a different kind of hemp.

The new parts are already in production and I may try to get another group of volunteers to try them out, hopefully on a nicer day.

The Zesty Populist has a .30mm pinhole 60mm from a 6x6mm frame. The film is TMax 100 semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1:100.

Happy Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day, everyone!

Friday, April 15, 2022


We had a difficult couple of days. I needed a distraction. I took the Variable Cuboid with the 60mm front out on a bike ride in the morning sunlight.

Have I mentioned recently that my camera has a square format? The shape of this white box against the dark bricks is what first stopped me. I've been considering doing a series on the little free libraries that people put in their front yards and was surprised to find this was a little free pantry. The box on the shelf on the left side is Excedrin. That struck me as very thoughtful to include. This old firehouse is the local office of the United Way.

I actually had a destination in mind and was riding a block east of Main Street. There are several empty lots where loading docks behind businesses on Main had been. I rode up to the back of one building and then thought better of the scene I had been considering. From there, across Main Street, behind Becker Music, I saw this white cube in the sun with the stairway spreading shadows next to it. I spent some time moving the tripod around parked cars to get the best view. While putting the tripod back on the bike rack, I noticed someone looking out the door. As I was about to get on the bike, he came out looking a little worried. "Can I help you?" Trying to make a joke, I said: "I'm just collecting photons reflecting off your building." That really confused him. I gave him my card and tried to explain about the blog, but I don't think that made him feel any better.

I don't like to concentrate on the more dilapidated aspects of Oshkosh, but my camera has a square format and I coudn't help myself. The front of this building just across Main Street was featured in color and monochrome in two blog posts a couple years ago. I've written about the east side of the 600 block of Main Street before. The west side of the street is kind of modern and bustling, but except for the bars and a Burger King on the corners, the east side looks like it's been abandoned for years with vacant lots alternating with vacant buildings.

Further to the right, the remnant of the original building was dappled with the shadow of a tree. I'm not sure I captured that, but the bricks make an interesting texture.

The place I was going was just across the Burger King drive-through and another empty lot. This notch in the corner of the white building had caught my attention before when riding past in the afternoon and on cloudy days. It would be nicely modeled in the morning sunlight. I had to work fast because the sunshine was getting a little hazy through thin clouds and I had to get about four feet out into the street to get far enough away.

Across the street is the back of a sports bar with an outdoor beach volleyball court. In reference to the notion that 60mm is a little long to be good for pinhole, please zoom in to see how that netting is rendered,

Crossing the street going back to my bicycle I noticed this roof overhanging an empty slab, which isn't accessible to vehicles. There must have been some kind of structure back here and they had to keep the roof on to control rain water.  I love the pragmatism exhibited by the backs of buildings, like the section of PVC pipe just stuck over the downspout to extend it to the end of the concrete.

The light was still pretty directional through the thin clouds. It nicely defined the randomly assembled shapes of the Victory Baptist Church on the opposite corner.

I recently participated in a discussion of good places for a meet-up photo shoot. I wonder how they would have reacted if I suggested the intersection of Jefferson Street and Parkway?

By now it was pretty overcast. I was going back to the vine covered building which I had photographed in the sun in my last post to try it with the softer light. The garage I had been up against to take that picture was now open with several workers having a conversation in front of it. Continuing farther down the street, there was another free little pantry, this time in front of the Boy's and Girl's Club.

Also in my last post was a photograph of an old eccentric apartment block which I had never gotten around to photographing until it was being stripped of any reusable elements before being razed. Just in time. This is about exactly the same scene. The Howard, in the grandly restored Eagles Club next door, bought the dilapidated property and plan to put a park-like addition to their venue. The dump truck was bringing in top soil.

During the pandemic when I needed one or two prints for a camera template, I could go to the public library. You could print wirelessly from the parking lot and the staff brought it out to a cart in front of the entrance. As I was setting up the tripod, a patron about my age approached and noted there was a cardboard box on the tripod. He was flabbergasted that roll film still existed. He took a picture of my camera to show his son who had a digital camera. I told him he could describe it as like a Hasselblad. I love that they used the V letter form to represent the sound of the U on this 30 year old wall, to match the way it was done on the original 120 year old entrance on the other side.

This is disappointing. After I saw the two free little pantries, I went to photograph the Free Fridge Pantry downtown. With short exposures, I place a piece of black card in front of the camera, open the shutter, then wave the card away and back to expose the film. I had forgotten the black card and was using my phone. I must have opened the shutter, mistrusted my pointing and tried to adjust it while not completely keeping the phone over the pinhole. Looks like my mistrust was warranted. I intended it to be a little higher.

The 60mm front for The Variable Cuboid has a hand drilled .30mm pinhole on an adjustable rising front. The film is Ilford FP4+ semi-stand developed in Rodinal 1:100.